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Week 9 Bengals vs Browns: What We Learned

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The Battle of Ohio played out much differently on Thursday Night Football in 2015 than it did in 2014...and that is a great thing for Bengals fans! Here is what we learned Thursday night under the bright lights.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Every week the Bengals add a new chapter to the franchise record book. This week, they extended the franchise record for best start to 8-0 and showed no signs of slowing.

The Bengals are half way through their 2015 schedule...and they have yet to lose.

Raise your hand if you had the Bengals starting 8-0. Safe to say even the players themselves wouldn't have expected to be undefeated this late in the season, but here they are, each week adding to their franchise record. With their next game 10 days from the last and against an underwhelming Houston Texans team, the Bengals have a real possibility of going into the desert to take on their former quarterback without a blemish on their record (knock on wood).

Marvin Lewis became the first coach in the AFC North to start 8-0.

It's hard to believe that a division which began 14 years ago (2002) and has produced three Super Bowl winners and four Super Bowl participants (including a 15-1 Steelers team - 2004) has never had a team start 8-0 until Marvin Lewis and his 2015 Bengals. Say what you want about Marvin - most of which is fair - this is an impressive accomplishment and a true testament to the team he and the Brown family have built.

Andy Dalton quieted some of his critics regarding his primetime play.

Since 2011, Dalton has amassed 48 wins in the NFL, more than most starting quarterbacks during that time period, yet many NFL fans have only seen Dalton in the playoffs or primetime games - games which, historically, he has not played well in. Thursday night the world got to see the Andy Dalton that Bengals fans know exists and some of his critics - those that say he can't win when the lights come on - have quieted. Sure, it was against the 2-6 Browns, a team starting a young quarterback and missing some key defensive pieces, but it was primetime and Dalton played excellently. While some critics will never give him his due, Dalton showed everyone - most importantly Bengals fans - that he can play under the lights and on the big stage. Dalton led the Bengals to a thorough beating of a team they should have thoroughly beat - and admit it Bengals fans, you didn't think he would/could do that.

Tyler Eifert is really good.

Through eight games, Tyler Eifert has nine touchdown receptions, tops in the NFL, and he is on pace to break Rob Gronkowski's tight end record of 17 touchdowns. After his three touchdown effort on Thursday night on national television, the entire world is aware of just how good Eifert is. At this point in the season, Eifert and Gronkowski are neck-and-neck for the designation of best tight end in the NFL and his presence is a huge reason we have seen Dalton progress so much this season.

Giovani Bernard is the best running back for this offense right now.

I didn't think I would ever say this at the start of the season, but it isn't a bad thing. Bernard's versatility makes him a matchup nightmare for defenses and he is just one of many layers that make this offense so hard to defend. Bernard is third in the NFL with 5.6 YPA and despite splitting time with Jeremy Hill, Bernard is still 13th in terms of rushing yards. This Giovani Bernard is the running back who Bengals fans thought they would see in 2014.

Jeremy Hill is not running with any authority and looks very indecisive.

Coming into the season, I thought Hill would establish himself as a top five running back in the league, and perhaps, even challenge Le'Veon Bell for the top running back in the league. That hasn't come close to happening. Despite a team high 104 attempts, Hill is only averaging a pedestrian 3.3 YPA. Remember when the fans wanted to get rid of BJGE? He averaged 3.9 and 3.4 YPA respectively in his two seasons with the Bengals. Watching Hill run against the Browns, he just didn't run with any authority. He looks tentative and indecisive. Maybe his knee is bugging him, maybe he is concerned about ball security, either way, he looks nothing like the Jeremy Hill we saw in the second half of 2014. Luckily for the Bengals, Bernard has been so good it hasn't mattered, but it has to concern the coaches. Just imagine how good this offense would be if they had the version of Hill we saw late in 2014? Scary.

Mohamed Sanu gives the Bengals' offense a layer that most teams do not have.

The beauty with this Bengals' offense is its diversity. They have the big and fast typical number one receiver in Green, the speedy sure handed number two receiver in Jones, the big and physical receiving tight end in Eifert, the quick and shifty, pass catching running back in Bernard and the big powerful running back in Hill. Then you throw in Sanu, a guy who can run, catch and pass and you have the most versatile and diverse offense in the league. Sanu had a big 25 yard touchdown run on Thursday night and has two passing touchdowns in his four year career. Though he has yet to throw a pass in 2015, Sanu is 5/5 as a quarterback with 2 touchdowns, 177 yards and a perfect 158.3 rating. No defense has the versatility to stop everything the Bengals' offense can do and Sanu is a big part of that offensive diversity.

The offensive line struggled for the second consecutive game.

After surrendering just two sacks in their first four games and six sacks in their first six games, the Bengals have surrendered five sacks in their last two games and nine in their last four. Yes Andre Smith was out, but for the second week in a row, Dalton faced a ton of pressure and was hit way too often. Whatever the issue is, the line needs to get back in the groove they had at the start of the year.

The defense still concerns me - especially the tackling.

Yes, they shut the Browns down in the second half, but that is a terrible Browns' offense who had no business going on a 92 yard drive at the end of the first half. I am starting to notice a trend with this defense - they come out slow, let teams score early, and then settle down. They give up a ton of yards, but not a ton of points and have perfected the "bend but don't break" philosophy. The problem is, when the games count most, they aren't going to be facing offenses like Cleveland's or quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel. Teams like the Patriots and quarterbacks like Tom Brady don't settle for field goals and will eventually break a defense that gives up a bunch of yards. The biggest issue right now is tackling and the linebacker play - two things that often overlap. If there is one weakness I am seeing emerge with this team, it is the run defense and it needs to be shored up before January if the Bengals want to make a deep playoff run.

Carlos Dunlap is becoming a household name.

Half way through the season, Carlos Dunlap is one sack away from his single season high (9.5) and is tied with J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones for the league lead in sacks (8.5). Bengals fans have always seen the potential in Dunlap, but he has yet to capitalize. Despite solid seasons his first five years in the league, Dunlap has never reached double digit sacks, and in fact, has only had more than eight sacks once - and that was his rookie season. With Geno Atkins back and healthy, Dunlap is finally matching his potential and people (locally and nationally) are starting to take notice.

Vontaze Burfict looked like a real a#@hole.

I love Burfict. I love the passion he plays with. I love the attitude he brings. His presence makes opponents uneasy and this is the type of defensive player the Bengals have lacked for years. Unfortunately, he has also developed a reputation for being dirty, and fair or not, it has reached a level that he no longer gets the benefit of the doubt and everything he does is flagged/scrutinized. On Thursday night, Burfict appeared - in my eyes at least - to purposefully knock over a cameraman's camera, a move that left the cameraman bruised and bloodied. It was completely unnecessary and a real d#$k move. Regardless of how you feel about the situation, Marvin Lewis was irritated enough that he went out of his way to tell the media that Burfict has been told to reach out to the individual and apologize. You may not think this is a big deal, but this is the type of stuff Burfict did in college which caused him to fall out of the draft and it is actions like this that create the reputation he has - a reputation that causes him to get flagged for borderline things, flags that can (and have) hurt the Bengals.

The Bengals have 7 more days off before facing another very beatable opponent.

Ending on a high note, the Bengals now have seven more days to prepare for their next opponent, a bad Houston Texans team. If the Bengals rest up and take care of business, they have a great opportunity to travel to the desert and face their old buddy Carson Palmer with an unblemished record in Week 11. But for now, let's focus on the Texans.